Main Engine Cut Off

Chang’e-4 Lander to Launch in December

Andrew Jones, in GBTIMES:

Wu Weiren, a chief designer of the China Lunar Exploration Project (CLEP), told Chinese state media that following the arrival of a prerequisite communications relay satellite in a special orbit beyond the Moon, the focus is now on preparations for the landing portion of the pioneering Chang’e-4 lunar far side mission.

“Now our focus is to ensure that the Chang’e-4 lunar probe's successful launch and we initially scheduled the launch in December,” Wu told CCTV+.

That means the relay satellite is doing well at Earth-Moon L2. I’m really excited to watch this mission get up there.

Spirits Are High for Opportunity

William Harwood, for Spaceflight Now, on Opportunity’s status while it sleeps in low power mode:

In the meantime, the rover must endure freezing overnight temperatures, putting thermal stress on Opportunity’s internal components. Callas said the rover is equipped with eight one-watt plutonium heat sources and simulations indicate it should be able to withstand the lowest expected temperatures without major damage.

“Because the rover’s not active, it will be getting colder,” Callas said. “The good news there is the dust storm has warmed temperatures on Mars. We’re also going into the summer season, and so the rover will not get as cold as it would normally.

“We’ve done an estimate that shows the rover should stay above its minimum allowable operating temperatures for the long term, so we should be able to ride out the storm. When the skies clear and the rover begins to power up, it should begin to communicate with us.”

The thermal limits were a main concern of mine going into the press conference NASA held yesterday about Opportunity and the currently-active Martian dust storm.

I was very impressed with some of the battery statistics talked about yesterday (at 23:50): 15-year-old batteries with 5,000 cycles on them, yet they still maintain 85% of their capacity.

Opportunity will forever be one of the most incredible spacecraft.

Spaceflight Books Three Electron Flights

Caleb Henry, of SpaceNews:

Spaceflight President Curt Blake told SpaceNews the company bought the “vast majority” of the lift capacity on all three missions, giving Spaceflight control of the schedule for each. Blake declined to say if Spaceflight received a discount for placing a three-launch order.

Spaceflight, as an aggregator of launch demand for cubesats and other small spacecraft, already has customers lined up to fill all three missions, he said.

Spaceflight’s first Electron launch is slated for late this year, followed by the second and third in early 2019, each from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand spaceport.

Good news for Rocket Lab, and better news for Spaceflight, who seemingly had no problem filling these flights.

Rocket Lab is being pretty tight-lipped about their manifest, though. I’m hoping they open up with more of a defined-and-public schedule after they get another flight or two off successfully.

Juno Gets an Extension

NASA has approved an update to Juno’s science operations until July 2021. This provides for an additional 41 months in orbit around Jupiter and will enable Juno to achieve its primary science objectives.  Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system. This longer orbit means that it will take more time to collect the needed science data.

Juno is on its 13th orbit right now, so an additional 41 months allows Juno to make 37 orbits—the exact amount originally planned. So this extension isn’t an extension _past_ the original science mission, it’s an extension to make it through the original science mission.

Great news for Juno, nonetheless, which is in good health, apparently with a less-harsh-than-predicted radiation environment in its 53-day orbit.

T+84: The End of NASA Exploration Exclusivity

Last week, China opened up their future space station to other nations, and Blue Origin laid some hints about their lunar ambitions. Both of these stories are indicative of what I think the next era of exploration will look like, and it has interesting implications for NASA.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 36 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Barbara, Stan, Mike, David, Mints, and seven anonymous—and 166 other supporters on Patreon.

Off-Nominal Studios East

Off-Nominal Studios East

May was absolutely crazy—a bit of vacation, a new (first!) house, and a few more life events sprinkled in. But things are just about settled down, and Off-Nominal Studios East is complete.

This is my new studio setup where I’ll be writing, recording, and soon…ominous foreshadowing…broadcasting. More on that soon.

For now, it’s back to regularly-scheduled programming right here on the blog, and in your podcast feeds.